On the evolutionary origins of equity

Stéphane Debove, Nicolas Baumard and Jean-Baptiste André.

Forthcoming in Plos One


Equity, defined as reward according to contribution, is considered a central aspect of human fairness in both philosophical debates and scientific research. Despite large amounts of research on the evolutionary origins of fairness, the evolutionary rationale behind equity is still unknown. Here, we investigate how equity can be understood in the context of the cooperative environment in which humans evolved. We model a population of individuals who cooperate to produce and divide a resource, and choose their cooperative partners based on how they are willing to divide the resource. Agent-based simulations, an analytical model, and extended simulations using neural networks provide converging evidence that equity is the best evolutionary strategy in such an environment: individuals maximize their fitness by dividing benefits in proportion to their own and their partners’ relative contribution. The need to be chosen as a cooperative partner thus creates a selection pressure strong enough to explain the evolution of preferences for equity. We discuss the limitations of our model, the discrepancies between its predictions and empirical data, and how interindividual and intercultural variability fit within this framework.

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How to cite:

Debove, S., Baumard, N. and André, J.-B. (2017), On the evolutionary origins of equity